After the shock withdrawal of Andrew Mclean, multiple South African marathon champion Shan Wilson is reverting to Plan B as he bids to win the three-day Garden Route Rocky Mountain 300 mountain bike race that starts in Knysna on Friday.

The Team Cycle Lab rider’s ambitions suffered a serious setback on Wednesday morning when his perennial team-mate Mclean announced that he had not yet recovered from an Achilles tendon injury and would be unable to race.

It is a severe blow for the duo who would have used the testing 300km race as a benchmark of their form ahead of next month’s Absa Cape Epic.

“It’s certainly a blow so late in the day,” admitted the 44-year-old Wilson, who won the masters’ title at the Epic with the four-time Giro del Capo champion two years ago.

In an interesting twist of fate, the Wellington-based rider will now team up with Mclean’s former road cycling team-mate Willie Engelbrecht (49), who was also left without a partner this week.

According to Wilson, the five-time Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour and Rapport Tour winner was still in good form and technically competent despite being relatively new to mountain biking.

“We’re both very competitive, so we’ll ride aggressively within Willie’s limits. I don’t know that I can challenge for the title anymore, but I’m certainly not going there for a holiday.”

He said the race would be an interesting encounter between the sport’s old guard and rising Team Rocky Mountain stars Timo Cooper (20) and Jarryd Haley (24).

Shan Wilson mail.jpg

Shan Wilson of Team Cycle Lab, pictured here during the final stage of the 2010 Absa Cape Epic, will mount his challenge for victory in the Garden Route Rocky Mountain 300 in Knysna alongside road cycling legend Willie Engelbrecht from Friday. Photo: Greg Beadle/SPORTZPICS/Cape Epic

The former won last year’s inaugural race alongside Jacques Rossouw, who now rides for Team FedGroup-Itec Connect. On that occasion, Wilson and Ady Enthoven finished two seconds behind overall to take masters’ honours.

Cooper, the Western Cape marathon champion, said he was looking forward to racing against the legends. “Our strategy will be to make every day hard from the start and we’ll take it from there.”

Wilson said he and Cooper, who is also from Wellington, have spent a lot of time training together over the past few years. “He’s got the physique to be a top stage racer and he’s technically equipped."

According to Wilson the Garden Route Rocky Mountain 300 offered one of the most well balanced stage-race courses in the country. “It’s got a bit of everything; from technical descents and climbs to open gravel roads, some muddy sections and phenomenal single track.”

Day one covers a distance of 99km through indigenous forest, including the Garden Route National Park’s well-known red route, with a total elevation of 1 650m.

At 114km and 2 100m of vertical ascent, day two is the longest and possibly the toughest. In a first, riders will be allowed to cross the privately owned Featherbed Nature Reserve on the Western Head during this stage.

The final day retraces part of the original Epic route and is around 80km long with 1 550m of climbing.

In the women’s race, reigning champions Catherine Williamson and Nicci Grobler (Team bizhub-FCF) will return with new partners Yolandi du Toit and Liana de Jager respectively for another chance at a share of the R40 000 total prize purse.

Race organiser Louise Wilson said the field has been limited to 300 teams in order to create a premium ride. The start/finish venue will be the Cruise Café race village at the Featherbed Company on the Knysna lagoon.

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